Monday, 1 April 2019

Spring begins to sprung

The Safari has had a few good days out in the field during the second half of March. 
A couple of Saturdays ago we met up with our Southside chums for a wander round Moore nature reserve near Warrington. We heard a brief Green Woodpecker call and watched Great Spotted Woodeckers chasing each other round the trees calling loudly but of the main event, the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, there was neither sight nor soundl despite plenty of folk listening and lurking around the Canal Path where a recently newly excavated  nest hole has been started by one of the males.
e spent some time watching the feeders where a Bank Vole was star of the show. The supporting cast included Long Tailed Tits, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, Reed Buntings, Chaffinches, a Nuthatch, and several Great and Blue Tits but there was no sign of the sometimes regular Willow Tits or the newly arrived at the site Marsh Tit
We enjoyed seeing the early spring flowers, lots of Primroses and the first Red Campions of the season but wit ha lunchtime high tide an executive decision was made to translocate to Parkgate Marsh half an hour away to see what raptors, waders and waterfowl might be about.
We pulled up in the very full car park, got out and asked the nearest birder if there was owt about - he pointed to a male Hen Harrier which promptly went behind some bushes never to be seen again for the rest of the afternoon. As luck would have it our chums had stopped at a garage for supplies on the way and were a little later arriving than us and got stonking views of the harrier as they drove along the promenade.
Butties, pies and the now obligatory Asda cheesy puffs were scoffed while watching thousands of Pink Footed Geese getting moved up the marsh by the advancing tide and several Little Egrets with a couple of Great White Egrets thrown in for good measure and not forgetting the quartering Marsh Harrier
AB waltzed off across the car park to investigate shouts of Short Eared Owl and beckoned us over to see one at close range a few minutes later.
The tide was supposed to be as high as the previous day but with higher pressure and less wind it became obvious it wasn't ging to totally flood the marsh today giving at least some of the small mammals a chance to live another day, there were so many photos of Short tailed field Voles being taken by every imaginable predator posted the previous evening that it's a wonder there were any left for this afternoon's predators. but there were and this Short Eared Owl (PYLC 110) had locked on to one unfortunate individual.
We enjoyed pretty good views after it had eaten its vole and resumed hunting.
After a brief interlude in the dog-friendly garden of the Boathouse pub chatting and drinking tea watching a/the Marsh Harrier waft past and a Raven land on the marsh close by it was time to head home but at the car park a last few minutes up the path with Monty gave us spectacular views of a hunting Short Eared Owl, giving us a last five minutes opportunity to fill our boots.
Better was to come but sadly we were in the car. Driving out of the car park there were now two Short Eared Owls hunting the marsh wihin a few feet of the roadway between the pub where we'd just had a brew and the patch of grass we'd met the rest of the gang on earlier - and the sun was coming out. But unfortunately we had begun to run late and there was nowhere to squeeze the car in between the serried ranks of already parked annoying!
In the week a morning dog-walk took us Marton Mere where there had been an influx of Chiffchaffs (PYLC 111) overnight
And on the way back after a fairly quiet round, other than the numerous Chiffchaffs, we came across a female Great Crested Newt at a location we've not looked for them at for a number of years so it was really good to see they are still in the area. Then we fluked a female Bullfinch. We half dismissed a finch flying across our path and into some nearby bushes as a Chaffinch as it had a big flash of white on it as it went by. Something in our brain mustn't have quite computed as after a milli-second of dithering we looked at where it had gone to see a Bullfinch sitting at the back of the bush. Really tricky to get a pick of throughthe twiggery but we got a half decent record shot in the end...well chuffed - they are still very scarce round these parts and only seldom seen!!!
At the end of the week we had a safari up to the southern fringe of Lakeland with CR. What a day that was. It was cooler than expected but the Lesser Redpolls (PYLC 112) and Siskins (PYLC 113) made up for the lack of snakes.
We couldn't count this cracking male Redpoll on the Challenge as it's stood on a concrete bird bath - no 'hand-of-man' remember
Female Siskin
After a look around the feeders and at the snake 'hotspots' which were decidedly cold today we had a walk along the boardwalk hoping to connect with some Red Deer, we'd already seen a Roe Deer in a field just after the nearest village, or even a newly arrived Osprey sitting on the nest platform. But all was quiet. Good to see the water levels on the raised bog were very high and there's been some interesting habitat work around some of the streams and ditches since our last visit at the end of the summer.
Once back at the covered verandah at the visitor centre for our lunch another visitor told CR where some Grass Snakes could be found only a few yards away. Never has a ham and tomato butty been so quickly dispatched. Sure enough at the base of the nearby wall hiding in the leaf litter was a tangle of Grass Snakes. Always a pleasure to watch and so disappointing that they are now so rare closer to Base Camp, with all the ponds and wetland areas across the Fylde they must have been extremely common once upon a time but sadly not anymore. Also sadly they decided to slide into the confines of the wall when the weather chilled a little more.
This one must have been the best part of 30 inches (75 cm) long
From time to time one would poke its head out of the wall to see if it had warmed up any or if the coast was clear perhaps. It was quite comical.
After enjoying the Grass Snakes we had another look  for the still invisible Adders but to do that meant passing the lively feeders again.
From there we had a walk through the coppice to the higher hides overlooking the Osprey nest and the fields. The woods were quite apart from a few singing Chiffchaffs and in neither the woods nor the fields did we come across any deer. The wild Daffodils though were as spectacular as Wordsworth would have seen them, there were drifts scattered across the woodland floor and in to the field margins where they probably show there had been woodland until fairly recently. It's a great shame we didn't take any pics as they'll be gone by the next time we visit so we'll have to wait a whole year for another chance to see them.
With the woods quiet, they'll be alive with migrant birds of all manner of species in a couple of weeks and no doubt we'll be back to fill our boots with the sights and mainly the sounds of the woodland in all its glory, we headed back to the Grass Snakes which had come out again but were hard to get a sight-line to through the intervening vegetation.
And of course those feeders were close by for a last look before home time.
Our thanks go to CR for driving on this superb day up north.

Back at Base Camp decent weather over the weekend had us sky watching for migrating birds of prey. We had some success with a passing Buzzard
but couldn't grab the camera quickly enough to get a pic of the Raven that flew right over the garden - that was totally unheard of and unthinkable when we moved here 15 years ago, they were so rare round these parts back then...unlike the Grass Snakes they are a local conservation success story - or maybe that should not be conservation but a lack (or at least much lower rate of illegal and unnecessary) persecution by game-keepers.

Perhaps even more welcome than the Raven was our first Robin of the year in the garden, we've heard them not far away but to wait until the end of March to record one in the garden is unprecedented, normally if one hadn't found its way in to the note-book by 3rd January we'd think that was getting very late. We also had a brief visit from a Chiffchaff but despite several passing Buzzards no Ospreys passed overhead as we hoped one (or more!) might - or if one did the gulls didn't alert us to it as they did the Buzzards.
Warmish and, more importantly, dry weahrer mid week allowed us to get the moth trap out for the first time this year and we had immediate success with a single Common Quaker on the first night followed by up to six Hebrew Characters on subsequent nights, a good start considering all the habitat destruction locally over the winter - oh sorry we meant 'tidying up'.
We had planned another reptilian safari with CR for this morning but the weather decreed none would be seen so we went to Marton Mere instead and a fortuitous change of venue it proved to be. Straight away we had about two dozen Sand Martins and our first Swallows and House Martin of the year (our earliest for at least 10 years and by a good margin too). A Buzzard was seen out of its roost by a couple of Herring Gulls as we passed the Feeding Station on route to Dragonfly Den hide. It was noticeable how many Cetti's Warblers and Chiffchaffs there were around the place too.
At Dragonfly Den (aka Ice Station Zebra - and certainly living up to its alias this morning!!!) we tried to get some pics of the Sand Martins and Swallows for the Challenge but they were always too distant really, we got some but they'll have to be replaced over the course of the summer.
Sand Martin (PYLC 114) - the little one
Swallow - a bit closer than the Sand Martins
And with goodies like two calling Little Grebes
our first Shelducks of the year for the site 
Low flying Mute Swans
Our first Grey Wagtail for the year at the site - Spotters Badge well and truly earned by C today.
We heard numerous Cetti's Warblers but they were teasing us with only fleeting flight glimpses as they passed over gaps in the reedbed or the briefest of almost at the edge of the reeds or in a dense bush views. Towards the end of our walk a Wren did what we'd hoped just one of the Cetti's Warblers had done.
A superb morning out on safari - if a little chilly! Brrr it felt more like February than April.

Where to next? We've got some pond dipping coming up and an amphibian survey with a further flung safari again later in the week. Hold on to your Hollyhocks Spring is sprunging and the natural world is coming alive. 

In the meantime let us know who's slithering through the grass in your outback.

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Mid month flurry

The Safari hasn't been enjoying the incessant stream of Atlantic storms battering us in the last couple of weeks; they've been a shock to the system after the brief record-breaking warm spell at the end of February, but this rough weather is normal for the time of year it's always windy around the equinox. We're now in to the last third of March and we still haven't seen a Wheatear, we missed the very early ones then the door was slapped firmly in their faces by the atrocious weather.
A bit of a break between storms saw us head east to Brock Bottoms for a morning walk with Monty. It was still gloomy and drizzly but at least the howling wind had dropped. The river was very high and going through like a train. A Dipper (PYLC #103) tried its best to keep in the dark shadows under the near bank.
The woods were fairly quiet we might have expected a bit more bird activity after the hooleys but even with the (very refreshing) lack of humans and their mutts everything was still keeping its head down. Best of the rest was easily a pair of Grey Wagtails (PYLC #104) flitting around close to the old mill looking rather dapper in the sunshine. It's shame we didn't see the Dipper again now the sun had come out.
Back in the car park we noticed something we don't think we've noticed there before despite visiting regularly since the mid-80s, one of the trees close to the entrance is a Hornbeam. How come we've never spotted that before, or have we and we've just forgotten?
The strong winds have brought a few Little Gulls to our coast and at the weekend we went to look for them on the rising tide, there'd been some earlier in the afternoon but by the time Monty's walk time came around it was getting a bit late and dark and we'd missed them. A drake Eider (PYLC #105) half way across the river mouth was all we could see of note.
Pretty rubbish so we'll have to see if we can improve on it during the course of the year
Good weather beckoned on Monday so we arranged a trip out with CR, unfortunately by the time Monday came round the forecast good weather  had changed to cold and wet but at least not windy. With all the recent rain we reckoned our best bet for dry footpaths would be south of the river at Martin Mere and Marshside. We hit Martin Mere first, spending much of our time at the lively feeding stations
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Reed Bunting
Blue Tit
Chaffinch sitting somewhat uncomfortably
Perhaps due to its legs being affected by Papilloma virus
Tree Sparrow
We took a walk round the Reedbed Walk in the hope that the calm weather would have any Bearded Tits still on site giving their presence away with their distinctive pinging calls. We didn't hear any nor did we hear the sites booming Bittern but we did hear a couple of Cetti's Warblers giving brief bursts of song.
From the Ron Barker hide the chance of seeing any Barn Owls hunting was well and truly scuppered by the now heavy drizzle. From there we always like to get a pic of the big Longhorn bull. Today's opportunity was a good one as he was closer than usual and we were able to get a more natural pic of him that doesn't show his ear tags or nose ring.
A fine looking beast
Also there were a few Avocets.
Somehow we managed to dodge most of the wildfowl and waders but we were tempted to point the lens at this Ruff that landed close to us at the remains of the old Swan Link hide.
Round at the UU hide we soon picked out the flock of Barnacle Geese but are they 'real' or 'just' some feral wanderers?
A Little Egret flew past the window and landed at the edge of the pool across the big dyke but didn't stay more than a few minutes.
After lunch we moved down tthe road a couple of miles to Marshside RSPB reserve.
As soon as we got there a quick look on the Junction Pool gave us a very sleepy Scaup (PYLC #106)
But the 'main event' was to be seen from the visitor centre, Sandgrounders hide, the long(ish) staying Spoonbill. Wonder if it is one of the three we saw here last year but didn't have a camera with us for pic. It was feeding in a deep ditch and we had to wait a while until it reached more open ground by which time it was even further away across the marsh. Still it hits the Challenge tally at #107 and a good bonus bird as they're far from guaranteed round these parts.
Much of the time we spent in the hide was taken up watching the antics of the Black Headed Gulls going about their courtship rituals. One female in particular was regularly being offered coughed up morsels, whether or not it was the same male bringing them we couldn't tell.
A nice variety of ducks swam past the window very close in.
Shoveler female
Shoveler male
Tufted Duck
Just breaking the surface

Bedraggled Gadwall
But the stars of the show were the Avocets which came so close we could see they were eating 3-Spined Sticklebacks and small snails among other unidentified invertebrates.
And what goes in must inevitably come out
We meant the water...but you knew that didn't you!
Time was drawing to a close so another quick look at the Junction Pool before hitting the car park gave us a pair of Little Grebes (PYLC #108) right below us at the screen.
A great safari south of the river and our thanks to C for the driving today.

Yesterday we decidded to have a look for a local Little Owl, we sort of knew where it was but had no joy, it wasn't until later in the morning when AM bumped in to us that he told us he'd just seen it - miust have missed him on site by minutes - and that we had been looking in the wrong place, we'd been checking out some of the tumbledown farm buildings when in fact they are in a tree across the fields, a tree we'd seen and noted but not looked at properly - dohhh. Never mind, we know for next time. AM told us he was going down to Warton Marsh and as Monty needed a bit of a stretch we decided to follow him there. 
A good decision it turns out as we picked up a harrier on the far side of the river which A got in his scope anb confirmed it as a ring-tail Hen Harrier, a year bird for us but no chance of a photo. We walked the embankment counting about 120 Whooper Swans and 10 distant Avocets along with numerous Little Egrets while being serenaded by Skylarks and Meadow Pipits, it was a little chilly but a lovely morning to be out.
A Buzzard flew over us and then out in the distance we picked up another, rather larger harrier, a Marsh Harrier. As we watched it quartering the marsh at some height it suddenly stooped on something white that got up out of the grass, well not quite white pale grey and we could just about make out a hint of dark at the wingtips, male Hen Harrier exclaimed A looking at it through his scope - excellent! Unfortunately as soon as the Marsh Harrier had passed over it dropped back in to the long grass not to be seen again.
One last scan of  the marsh through the scope as we were leaving had A saying he'd found a Merlin on a piece of driftwood - what a great morning, really glad we decided to follow him down there.
The road back to Base Camp takes us through the little village of Wrea Green where there is a village green complete with cricket square and duck pond. On the green there were a few Rooks feeding so we had to stop.
Rooks (PYLC #109)
A good end to a good morning on safari even if we did miss the Little Owls.

This morning it was very foggy out on Chat Alley with Monty. There were at least a dozen grounded Meadow Pipits and then a much bigger flash of white, our first Wheatear of the year. A quick look at our records from the last eight years shows it is actually just about bang on time, our mean date of seeing our first being 21st March and today is the 20th. Close enough for rock n roll!!!
Also there was a big bonus of a female Stonechat, the first we've seen along the cliffs for quite a long time, well over a year and maybe over two don't remember ever having seen one with Monty and he's now 2 1/2. Really should use BirdTrack more then these stats would be a lot easier to recall.

Where to next? We've got our first amphibian survey of the season this evening, hopefully four species in good numbers.

In the meantime let us know who's arriving bang on time in your outback.